It's the final song of the final night of Knocked Loose's spring headlining tour, and all hell is breaking loose at the appropriately named Fubar in St. Louis. As members of support acts the Acacia Strain, Harm's Way, Higher Power and Sanction rush the stage to join in on a chaotic rip through the Louisville, Kentucky hardcore quintet's "Counting Worms" — some singing, some bashing away at instruments, some spraying water all over the place — Knocked Loose frontman Bryan Garris suddenly has an idea.
Remembering that, months earlier, Knocked Loose drummer Kevin "Pacsun" Kaine had thanked him for having the decency not to dive into his drums during their sets, Garris decides that it's time to scratch that particular entry off the bucket list. Whirling around to look his drummer in the eye, Garris screams "Today is the fucking day!" — and promptly launches himself headlong into Pacsun's drum kit.
"It was the last day of the tour, and you always want some kind of climax, something to happen that really sends the tour off," Garris explains three days later, while groggily picking at a plate of eggs and hash browns in a North Carolina Waffle House. "Everybody was having so much fun, and it was one of the funnest moments I've ever had, playing a set — and [Pacsun] had completely forgotten about what he'd said about me not diving into his drums, so it was a complete surprise to him. But the worst part about it was, I didn't realize there was no wall behind him, so we fell through the curtain, like down onto the stage. I've got this really bad bruise because of it, and he has this giant scratch on his back. But it's fine. I should have gotten hurt more than I did!"
Frankly, it's kind of amazing that Garris — along with Knocked Loose guitarists Isaac Hale and Cole Crutchfield, who join us at the Waffle House — are here to tell their tale. Not just because of their propensity for onstage mayhem — "There's a million times where I've done, like, stupid shit," laughs Hale — but also because Knocked Loose revel in embarking upon the sort of grueling touring schedule that would fry most bands to a crisp. It's not unusual for the band, who formed in 2013 and will release their second full-length, A Different Shade of Blue, late this August, to spend nine or 10 months on the road each year, but the combination of relentless touring and sweaty, cathartic live shows has paid off considerably for the band. Last night, they played a choice slot at the Epicenter Festival in Rockingham, North Carolina; several days from now, they'll fly across the Atlantic for their European headlining tour. And then, the day after they return to the U.S., they'll begin a month-long tour of the Midwest, South and East Coast supporting A Day to Remember.
"People ask me, 'Do you ever get burnt out? Do you ever get sad on the road, and want to be home?' And it's like, yeah, I get homesick. I mean, we're gone a lot," Garris reflects. "But if I didn't want to do this, I wouldn't do it. And while things have only gotten better for us, I'm not doing it because things are going so well. I'm doing it because I still really like doing it, and we're still legitimately having a lot of fun. We have a joke where, every day before we play, we put our hands in the middle and we say, 'Never stop going in!' But that's just become our thing."
In truth, the "never stop going in" ethos has always been Knocked Loose's thing, even if they themselves weren't fully aware of it at first. Even in the band's early days, they showed a willingness to play any kind of show, at any kind of venue. "I feel like a lot of people start off super dead set, as far as what they want," says Garris. "And then they hit a ceiling, and they have to decide whether or not they're going to branch out, and do something that their friends are going to make fun of them for, or keep playing the 200-cap hardcore show. But we just thought, There's no reason to pigeonhole ourselves into a certain subgenre, or kind of show. We come from hardcore, so when we play something like Epicenter, we try and treat it like a hardcore show.
"We've just always tried to play in front of as many people as we could," the singer continues. "We'll play with anyone. We'll play on a rap show, a pop-punk show, whatever. It's not going to change what we sound like — it's just spreading the word."
But Knocked Loose's proselytizing isn't just about building the band a rabid and sizeable fan base, it's also about the survival and growth of hardcore, a style of music and a community that they're very proud of repping, particularly their hometown scene. "It helps us, but it also helps this genre of music that we play," says Garris, an unofficial archivist of the Louisville scene who's always looking to add to an already-extensive collection of local hardcore records and ephemera. As he sees it, playing rap shows or pop-punk shows is a way for Knocked Loose to open previously unexposed people's minds to hardcore — which the band members see as an inclusive, not an exclusive, scene — and present them with "something that's going to change the way they listen to music."
For Garris, that change came through an aunt, who introduced him to System of a Down, Korn and Slipknot as a kid. His first show was Suicide Silence — his mom, who mostly listened to hip-hop, took him, afraid he might "get beat up or something." Soon he was diving deep into hardcore, though he wasn't yet ready for it to completely take over his life. Even when Knocked Loose formed in 2013, Garris viewed playing in a band as more of a hobby than a career; he was in college and didn't want to tour. But as opportunities mounted, and after getting a taste of life on the road with the group one summer, he dropped out of school to focus on music full-time. He hasn't looked back since: Knocked Loose and its mission are just too important to him and his bandmates.
As such, putting on anything less than a killer show is never an option, no matter how bad the aches and pains, how crappy the venue, or how badly a particular show might go. "I mean, we've messed up every night," Garris laughs. "And we've had those shows where we've been very, very bummed at how things were going, for whatever reason. But none of us has ever walked off a stage before the end of the show. I feel like if someone walked off the stage, that would be it. There's no coming back from that — for that member, at least!"
A Different Shade of Blue seethes and surges with that sense of dedication. Featuring guest vocals from Every Time I Die's Keith Buckley and Dying Wish's Emma Boster, the album builds upon the earth-scorching template set by 2016's Laugh Tracks, taking it next level through tightened songwriting and a more fully realized front-to-back vision. Searing cuts like "Mistakes Like Fractures," "Trapped in the Grasp of a Memory" and "Denied by Fate" sound incredibly angry, but Hale says the album's music is actually "the opposite of pissed off." "We all love heavy music," he explains, "and Knocked Loose is what it is because we're all into different types of heavy music, so writing is an incredibly fun part of the process."
Infused with that sense of fun, A Different Shade of Blue is primed to expand Knocked Loose's audience exponentially. There will, of course, be a ton of touring in support of the album, too, as Knocked Loose see no reason to alter the methodical, miles-eating approach that's gotten them this far. "There's a lot of the world that we still haven't been to," says Garris. "I want to do Southeast Asia really bad, stuff like that. … We always have goals, and I think that's healthy," he continues, "but I like to focus on short-term goals rather than long-term goals. I'm not like, 'Oh, I want to win a Grammy!' I'm like, 'I want to put out a good record!'" He laughs. "And then maybe win a Grammy for it!"